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Hayley on Pope’s genius and his satire
The severity of Criticism has from hence inferred, that his imagination was
inferior to the other faculties of his mind, and that he possessed not that vigour of
genius which might enable him to rank with our more sublime and pathetic
Bards. This inference appears to me extremely defective both in candour and in
reason; it would surely be more generous, and I will venture to add, more just, to
assign very different causes for his having latterly applied himself to moral and
satyric composition. If his preceding poems displayed only a moderate portion of
fancy and of tenderness, we might indeed very fairly conjecture, that he quitted
the kind of poetry, where these qualities are particularly required, because Nature
directed him to shine only as the Poet of reason.—But his earlier productions
will authorize an opposite conclusion. At an age when few authors have
produced any capital work, Pope gave the world two poems, one the offspring of
imagination, and the other of sensibility, which will ever stand at the head of the
two poetical classes to which they belong: his Rape of the Lock, and his Eloise,
have nothing to fear from any rivals, either of past or of future time. When a
writer has displayed such early proofs of exquisite fancy, and of tender
enthusiasm, those great constituents of the real Poet, ought we not to regret that
he did not give a greater scope and freer exercise to these qualities, rather than to
assert that he did not possess them in a superlative degree?—Why then, it may
be asked, did he confine himself to compositions in which these have little share?
The life and character of Pope will perfectly explain the reasons, why he did not
always follow the higher suggestions of his own natural genius. He had
entertained an opinion, that by stooping to truth, and employing his talents on the
vices and follies of the passing time, he should be most able to benefit mankind.
The idea was perhaps ill-founded, but his conduct in consequence of it was
certainly noble. Its effects however were most unhappy; for it took from him all
his enjoyment of life, and may injure, in some degree, his immortal reputation:
by suffering his thoughts to dwell too much on knaves and fools, he fell into the
splenetic delusion, that the world is nothing but a compound of vice and folly;
and from hence he has been reproached for supposing that all human merit was
confined to himself, and to a few of his most intimate correspondents.
There was an amiable peculiarity in the character of Pope, which had great
influence both on his conduct and composition—he embraced the sentiments of
those he loved with a kind of superstitious regard; his imagination and his
judgment were perpetually the dupes of an affectionate heart: it was this which
led him, at the request of his idol Bolingbroke, to write a sublime poem on
metaphysical ideas which he did not perfectly comprehend; it was this which
urged him almost to quarrel with Mr. Allen, in compliance with the caprices of a
female friend;1 it was this which induced him, in the warmth of gratitude, to
follow the absurd hints of Warburton with all the blindness of infatuated
affection. Whoever examines the life and writings of Pope with a minute and
unprejudiced attention, will find that his excellencies, both as a Poet and a Man,
were peculiarly his own; and that his failings were chiefly owing to the ill
judgment, or the artifice, of his real and pretended friends. The lavish applause
530 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
and the advice of his favourite Atterbury [see p. 16 above], were perhaps the
cause of his preserving the famous character of Addison, which, finely written as
it is, all the lovers of Pope must wish him to have suppressed. Few of his friends
had integrity or frankness sufficient to persuade him, that his satires would
destroy the tranquillity of his life, and cloud the lustre of his fame: yet, to the
honour of Lyttelton, be it remembered, that he suggested such ideas to the Poet,
in the verses which he wrote to him from Rome, with all the becoming zeal of
No more let meaner Satire dim the rays
That flow majestic from thy nobler bays!
In all the flowery paths of Pindus stray,
But shun that thorny, that unpleasing way!
Nor, when each soft, engaging Muse is thine,
Address the least attractive of the Nine!2
This generous admonition did not indeed produce its intended effect, for other
counsellors had given a different bias to the mind of the Poet, and the malignity
of his enemies had exasperated his temper; yet he afterwards turned his thoughts
towards the composition of a national Epic poem, and possibly in consequence
of the hint which this Epistle of Lyttelton contains. The intention was formed too
late, for it arose in his decline of life. Had he possessed health and leisure to
execute such a work, I am persuaded it would have proved a glorious acquisition
to the literature of our country: the subject indeed which he had chosen must be
allowed to have an unpromising appearance; but the opinion of Addison
concerning his Sylphs, which was surely honest, and not invidious, may teach us
hardly ever to decide against the intended works of a superior genius. Yet in all
the Arts we are perpetually tempted to pronounce such decisions. I have
frequently condemned subjects which my friend Romney had selected for the
pencil; but in the sequel, my opinion only proved that I was nearsighted in those
regions of imagination, where his keener eyes commanded all the prospect. [iv.
[See Spence, Anecdotes, i. 159–60]
[See No. 62]
Johnson on ‘whit’
Conversation between Dr Samuel Johnson and William Weller
Pepys on 29 October 1782, reported by Fanny Burney, Diary and
Letters of Madame D’Arblay…edited by her Niece, ii. (1842), 164–5.
Johnson, who was visiting Brighton at the same time as Mrs Thrale,
had already argued with Pepys (1740–1825) in June 1781. Ailing and
discouraged, Johnson’s ill-temper was only too evident to others.
Further, see J.L.Clifford, Hester Lynch Piozzi (1941), pp. 197, 212,
and Boswell’s Life, ed. L.F.Powell (1934–50), iv. 65n., 487–8.
The sum of the dispute was this. Wit being talked of, Mr. Pepys repeated,—
True wit is Nature to advantage dress’d,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.
[An Essay on Criticism, ll. 97–8]
‘That, sir,’ cried Dr. Johnson, ‘is a definition both false and foolish. Let wit be
dressed how it will, it will equally be wit, and neither the more nor the less for
any advantage dress can give it.’
Mr. P. But, sir, may not wit be so ill expressed, and so obscure, by a bad speaker,
as to be lost?
Dr. J. The fault, then, sir, must be with the hearer. If a man cannot distinguish
wit from words, he little deserves to hear it.
Mr. P. But, sir, what Pope means—
Dr. J. Sir, what Pope means, if he means what he says, is both false and foolish.
In the first place, ‘what oft was thought,’ is all the worse for being often
thought, because to be wit, it ought to be newly thought.
Mr. P. But, sir, ‘t is the expression makes it new.
Dr. J. How can the expression make it new? It may make it clear, or may make
it elegant; but how new? You are confounding words with things.
Mr. P. But, sir, if one man says a thing very ill, may not another man say it so
much better that—
Dr. J. That other man, sir, deserves but small praise for the amendment; he is
but the tailor to the first man’s thoughts.
Mr. P. True, sir, he may be but the tailor ; but then the difference is as great as
between a man in a gold lace suit and a man in a blanket.
Dr. J. Just so, sir, I thank you for that: the difference is precisely such, since it
consists neither in the gold lace suit nor the blanket, but in the man by
whom they are worn.
This was the summary; the various contemptuous sarcasms intermixed would
fill, and very unpleasantly, a quire.
Vicesimus Knox on the two parties in English
Vicesimus Knox, Essays Moral and Literary (‘New Edition’, 1782),
I think it is not difficult to perceive, that the admirers of English poetry are
divided into two parties. The objects of their love are, perhaps, of equal beauty,
though they greatly differ in their air, their dress, the turn of their features, and
their complexion. On one side, are the lovers and imitators of Spenser and
Milton; and on the other, those of Dryden, Boileau, and Pope.
Now it happens, unfortunately, that those who are in love with one of these
forms are, sometimes, so blind to the charms of the other, as to dispute their
existence. The author of the essay on Pope [Warton], who is himself a very
agreeable poet, and of what I call the old school of English poetry, seems to deny
the justice of Mr. Pope’s claim to the title of a true poet, and to appropriate to
him the subordinate character of a satyrical versifier. On the other hand, the
authors of the Traveller [Goldsmith], and of the Lives of the English Poets
[Johnson], hesitate not to strip the laurels from the brow of the Lyric Gray.
Goldsmith, in his Life of Parnell, has invidiously compared the
Night Piece on Death to Gray’s Elegy; and in a manner which betrays a little
jealousy of a living poet’s fame, given the preference to Parnell. There is also a
little censure thrown on the elegy, in a collection which Goldsmith published
under the title of the Beauties of English Poetry. I remember to have heard
Goldsmith converse, when I was very young, on several subjects of literature,
and make some oblique and severe reflections on the fashionable poetry. I became
a convert to his opinion, because I revered his authority. I took up the odes of
Gray with unfavourable prepossessions, and in writing my remarks on them,
joined in the censure. I have since read them with great delight, and on
comparing their style, and even their obscurity, with many of the finest pieces of
Lyric composition in all antiquity, I find a very great resemblance. I am not
ashamed to retract my former opinion, and to pay the tribute of applause to those
elegant friends, Gray and Mason. At the same time, while it is easy to discern
that they differ greatly from the school of Dryden and Pope, it is no derogation
from their merit to assert, that they are the genuine disciples of Spenser and
Milton. Such also are the very elegant and learned brothers, one of whom
presides, with so much honour, over the school at Winchester, and the other has
written an elegant and elaborate history of that English poetry in which himself
Pope on versification
Pope to William Walsh, 22 October, Corresp., i. 22–5. This letter is
fabricated from one to Henry Cromwell, dated 25 November 1710.
Sherburn remarks, ‘Evidently he felt inclined to emphasise the
influence of Walsh, and had relatively few Walsh letters to print.’
After the Thoughts I have already sent you on the subject of English
Versification, you desire my opinion as to some farther particulars. There are
indeed certain Niceties, which tho’ not much observed even by correct Versifiers,
I cannot but think deserve to be better regarded.
1. It is not enough that nothing offends the Ear, but a good Poet will adapt the
very Sounds, as well as Words, to the things he treats of. So that there is (if one
may express it so) a Style of Sound. As in describing a gliding Stream, the
Numbers shou’d run easy and flowing; in describing a rough Torrent or Deluge,
sonorous and swelling, and so of the rest. This is evident every where in Homer
and Virgil, and no where else that I know of to any observable degree. The
following Examples will make this plain, which I have taken from Vida.
Molle viam tacito lapsu per levia radit.
Incedit tardo molimine subsidendo.
Luctantes ventos, tempestatesque sonoras.
Immenso cum præcipitans ruit Oceano Nox.
Telum imbelle sine ictu, Conjecit.
Tolle moras, cape saxa manu, cape robora Pastor,
Ferte citi flammas data tela, repellite pestem.1
1 [The sources of these lines, in order, are: Vida, Ars poetica, iii. 374, 376; Aeneid, i. 53;
Vida, iii. 425; Aeneid, ii. 544–5 (combined); Vida, iii. 422, 423]
This, I think, is what very few observe in practice, and is undoubtedly of
wonderful force in imprinting the Image on the reader: We have one excellent
Example of it in our Language, Mr. Dryden s Ode on St. Cœcilia’s Day, entitled,
2. Every nice Ear, must (I believe) have observed, that in any smooth English
Verse of ten syllables, there is naturally a Pause at the fourth, fifth, or sixth
syllable. It is upon these the Ear rests, and upon the judicious Change and
Management of which depends the Variety of Versification. For example,
At the fifth. Where-e’er thy Navy || spreads her canvass Wings,
At the fourth. Homage to thee || and Peace to all she brings.1
At the sixth. Like Tracts of Leverets || in Morning Snow.2
Now I fancy, that to preserve an exact Harmony and Variety, the Pauses of the
4th or 6th shou’d not be continu’d above three lines together, without the
Interposition of another; else it will be apt to weary the Ear with one continu’d
Tone, at least it does mine: That at the 5th runs quicker, and carries not quite so
dead a weight, so tires not so much tho’ it be continued longer.
3. Another nicety is in relation to Expletives, whether Words or Syllables,
which are made use of purely to supply a vacancy: Do before Verbs plural is
absolutely such; and it is not improbable but future Refiners may explode did and
does in the same manner, which are almost always used for the sake of Rhime.
The same Cause has occasioned the promiscuous use of You and Thou to the same
Person, which can never sound so graceful as either one or the other.
4. I would also object to the Irruption of Alexandrine Verses of twelve
syllables, which I think should never be allow’d but when some remarkable
Beauty or Propriety in them attones for the Liberty: Mr. Dry den has been too
free of these, especially in his latter Works. I am of the same opinion as to Triple
5. I could equally object to the Repetition of the same Rhimes within four or
six lines of each other, as tiresome to the Ear thro’ their Monotony.
6. Monosyllable-Lines, unless very artfully managed, are stiff, or languishing:
but may be beautiful to express Melancholy, Slowness, or Labour.
7. To come to the Hiatus, or Gap between two words which is caus’d by two
Vowels opening on each other (upon which you desire me to be particular) I
think the rule in this case is either to use the Cæsura, or admit the Hiatus, just as
the Ear is least shock’d by either: For the Cæsura sometimes offends the Ear
more than the Hiatus itself, and our language is naturally overcharg’d with
Consonants: As for example; If in this Verse,
[Waller, ‘To the King on his Navy, in the Year 1726’]
[Waller, ‘Of a tree cut in Paper’]
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE 537
The Old have Interest ever in their Eye,
we should say, to avoid the Hiatus,
But th’ Old have Int’erest—
The Hiatus which has the worst effect, is when one word ends with the same
Vowel that begins the following; and next to this, those Vowels whose sounds
come nearest to each other are most to be avoided. O, A, or U, will bear a more
full and graceful Sound than E, I, or Y. I know some people will think these
Observations trivial, and therefore I am glad to corroborate them by some great
Authorities, which I have met with in Tully and Quintilian. In the fourth Book of
Rhetoric to Herennius,1 are these words: Fugiemus crebras Vocalium
concursiones, quœ vastam atque hiantem reddunt orationem; ut hoc est, Baccœ
œneœ amœnissimœ impendebant. And Quintilian l. 9. cap. 4. Vocalium
concursus cum accidit, hiat & intersistit, at quasi laborat oratio. Pessimi longè
quœ easdem inter se liter as committunt, sonabunt: Prœcipuus tamen erit hiatus
earum quœ cavo aut patulo ore efferuntur. E plenior litera est, I angustior. But he
goes on to reprove the excess on the other hand of being too sollicitious in this
matter, and says admirably, Nescio an negligentia in hoc, aut solicitudo sit pejor.
So likewise Tully (Orator ad Brut.)2 Theopompum reprehendunt, quod eas
literas tanto opere fugerit, etsi idem magister ejus Isocrates: which last Author,
as Turnebus on Quintilian observe, has hardly one Hiatus in all his Works.
Quintilian tells us that Tully and Demosthenes did not much observe this Nicety,
tho’ Tully himself says in his Orator, Crebra ista Vocum concursio, quam magna
ex parte vitiosam, fugit Demosthenes.3 If I am not mistaken, Malherbe of all the
Moderns has been the most scrupulous in this point; and I think Menage in his
Observations upon him says, he has not one in his Poems. To conclude, I believe
the Hiatus should be avoided with more care in Poetry than in Oratory; and I
would constantly try to prevent it, unless where the cutting it off is more prejudicial
to the Sound than the Hiatus itself. I am, &c.
[Ad Herennium, IV. xii]
[Orator, xliv. 151]
‘The Ballance of Poets’
From Robert Dodsley’s The Museum: or, the Literary and Historical
Register, no. xix, 6 December 1745 (1746 ed.), ii. 165–9.
M.De Piles is one of the most judicious Authors on the Art of Painting. He has
added to his Treatise on that Subject, a very curious Paper, which he calls The
Ballance of the Painters. He divides the whole Art of Painting into four Heads;
Composition, Design, or Drawing, Colouring, and Expression; under each of
which, he assigns the Degree of Perfection which the several Masters have
attained. To this End he first settles the Degree of sovereign Perfection, which
has never been attain’d, and which is beyond even the Taste of Knowledge of the
best Criticks at present; this he rates as the twentieth Degree. The nineteenth
Degree is the highest of which the human Mind has any Comprehension, but
which has not yet been expressed or executed by the greatest Masters. The
eighteenth is that to which the greatest Masters have actually attained; and so
downwards according to their comparative Genius and Skill. Monsieur de Piles
makes four Columns of his chief Articles or Parts of Painting; and opposite to the
Names of the great Masters, writes their several Degrees of Perfection in each
Article. The Thought is very ingenious; and had it been executed with Accuracy,
and a just Rigour of Taste, would have been of the greatest use to the Lovers of
that noble Art. But we can hardly expect that any Man should be exactly right in
his Judgment, through such a Multiplicity of the most delicate Ideas.
I have often wished to see a Ballance of this Kind, that might help to settle our
comparative Esteem of the greater Poets in the several polite Languages. But as I
have never seen nor heard of any such Design, I have here attempted it myself,
according to the best Information which my private Taste could afford me. I
shall be extremely glad if any of your ingenious Correspondents will correct me
where I am wrong; and in the mean Time shall explain the general Foundations
of my Scheme, where it differs from that of the French Author. For he has not
taken in a sufficient Number of Articles, to form a compleat Judgment of the Art
of Painting; and though he had, yet Poetry requires many more. I shall retain his
Numbers, and suppose twenty to be the Degree of absolute Perfection; and
eighteen the highest that any Poet has attained.
His first Article is Composition; in which his Ballance is quite equivocal and
uncertain. For there are, in Painting, two sorts of Composition, utterly different
from each other. One relates only to the Eye, the other to the Passions: So that
the former may be not improperly stiled picturesque Composition, and is
concerned only with such a Disposition of the Figures, as may render the whole
Group of the Picture intire and well united; the latter is concerned with such
Attitudes and Connections of the Figures, as may effectually touch the Passions
of the Spectator. There are, in Poetry, two analogous kinds of Composition or
Ordonnance; one of which belongs to the general Plan or Structure of the Work,
and is an Object of the cool Judgment of a Connoisseur; the other relates to the
most striking Situations, and the most moving Incidents. And tho’ these are most
strictly connected in Truth and in the Principles of Art, yet in Fact, we see them
very frequently disjoined; and they depend indeed on different Powers of the
Mind. Sir Richard Blackmore, a Name for Contempt, or for Oblivion in the
Commonwealth of Poetry, had more of the former than Shakespear; who had more
of the latter than any Man that ever lived. The former we shall call Critical
Ordonnance, the latter Pathetick. And these make the two first Columns of our
It may perhaps be necessary to observe here, that though literally speaking,
these two Articles relate only to Epic and Dramatic Poetry; yet we shall apply
them to every other Species. For in Lyric Poetry, in Satire, in Comedy, in the Ethic
Epistle, one Author may excell another in the general Plan and Disposition of his
Work; and yet fall short of him in the Arguments, Allusions, and other
Circumstances, which he employs to move his Reader, and to obtain the End of
his particular Composition.
Our next Article answers to that which Monsieur de Piles calls Expression;
but this likewise, in Poetry, requires two Columns. Painting represents only a
single Instant of Time; consequently it expresses only a present Passion, without
giving any Idea of the general Character or Turn of Mind. But Poetry expresses
this part, as well as the other; and the same Poet is not equally excellent in both.
Homer far surpasses Virgil in the general Delineation of Characters and Manners;
but there are, in Virgil, some Expressions of particular Passions, greatly superior
to any in Homer. I shall therefore divide this Head of Expression, and call the
former Part Dramatic Expression, and the latter Incidental.
Our next Article answers to what the Painters call Design, or the Purity,
Beauty, and Grandeur of the Outline in Drawing; to which the Taste of Beauty in
Description, and the Truth of Expression, are analogous in Poetry. But as the
Term Design, except among Painters, is generally supposed to mean the general
Plan and Contrivance of a Work; I shall therefore omit it, to prevent Mistakes;
and substitute instead of it, The Truth of Taste, by which to distinguish the fifth